Archive: Till the Cows Come Home, 2001 – 2006

Made over a five year period in the aftermath of the devastating 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic in the UK, ‘Till the Cows Come Home…’ is a series of films and an extensive photographic essay produced in close collaboration with sections of the Cumbrian farming community and individual families as they came to terms with this traumatic upheaval. During the project, I was able to witness and record many aspects of its impact and changes which were already underway, including dramatic shifts in the sustainability of family farming and pressures towards intensification – as well as moves towards farm diversification.

‘Till the Cows Come Home… Film and Photography by Nick May’ was a major exhibition at Tullie House, Carlisle in 2006. Despite the continuing sensitivity of the subject, the exhibition was highly successful and recorded an excellent attendance and overwhelmingly positive response. This was the most comprehensive cultural body of work to have been produced about the experience and consequences of the epidemic anywhere in the UK. The films are in-depth profiles of the experience of individual families, some filmed over several years, while the 76 photographic prints in the collection complement these stories with images which represent the emotional, structural and economic conditions following the epidemic.

The seven films from Till the Cows Come Home… were made over a five year period between 2001 and 2006. Nick May worked closely with farming families from various farming sectors and recorded their experience and progress since the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001. These films quietly but vividly record many aspects of farm life and allow people time to tell their often very moving stories. There are many important lessons to be learned here about the handling of the epidemic and what it meant for the people at its center. As a series, the films are also a unique examination of farming culture in Cumbria at a pivotal moment.

The Stringtheory project was produced and exhibited with thanks to: Arts Council England, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council, Leader +, Littoral Arts and Cumbria Institute of the Arts.